Tropic Sprockets / Benediction 

By Ian Brockway

Terrence Davies (House of Mirth) tells the affecting story of poet Siegfried Sassoon in the film “Benediction.” Though it makes for difficult and laborious viewing, the apprehension builds into an affecting poignancey. The film creates a solid portrait of one of literature’s most evocative war poets.

During World War I, Siegfried (Jack Lowden) writes a scathing critique of the war as inhumane. As a consequence, he is sent to a psychiatric hospital. There (in addition to the front) he witnesses many horrors: bloody, burned and headless bodies.

Soon he meets poet Wilfred Owen (Matthew Tennyson) and they bond. Owen dies right before the end of war.

Now as a man about town, Siegfried is smitten with the biting and sarcastic Ivor Novello with feline eyes (Jeremy Irvine). For a while, the sensitive Siegfried is full of verve, but the petty Novello becomes vicious.

After this, the poet meets the handsome Stephen Tennant (Calam Lynch), and seems to meet his soulmate but Tennant comes down with tuberculosis. Tennant does not write a breakup letter, but gets his doctor to handle the duties. Siegfried is aghast.

Throughout the film, lovers abandon Siegfried and he is left empty. Humanity— at least as far as romance—ultimately disappoints, and aside from a marriage of companionship with Hetty (Kate Phillips), poetry and solitude are the only answers. 

The film has the intensity and detail of a novel or an in-depth biography. There are striking segments that show the depressing savagery of war. These war passages which show men burned and broken resemble a surrealist collage.

Near the film’s end, an older Siegfried tries to reconnect with the religion of his youth, Catholicism. When he kisses the ground, Siegfried looks very much like a character in “First Reformed,” his prostrate body becoming a human cross.

As an older man, Siegfried hungered for spiritual meaning in defense against the violent lunacy of war. There is no mention of the poet’s later enrollment in the Ghost Club. He wanted supernatural matters to mean as much as the physical and material realm. 

“Benediction” is a very detailed film of a creative man, disappointed by life. Though love and romance eluded him with cruel results, imagination and creativity held fast and never left him.

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